Recently my partner and I have talked about sexual exploration- or lack thereof – in our relationship. I don’t have any fetishes or kinks or fantasies. At least, I don’t think I do. I’ve never even owned a sex toy. Not that this is a problem, but I sense from my partner that he wishes otherwise.
He finds my “vanilla” preference for the sexual experience “interesting”- his words. Read: boring. Now I’m questioning if I’m suppressing a desire to expand my sexual horizons or if I really just don’t get off from a sexual experience separated from reality. I guess the only way to know is to try exploring or I’ll never know, but I wanted to hear what you have to say and what you recommend for proceeding.
Basic in Bed
Dear BinB –
There are a few reasons why I tend to use the term “pleasure-positive” to describe my work rather than “sex-positive” (though I’m truly a mix of both): on the one hand the “sex-positive” movement has been really, well – positive! Sex-positivity counters slut-shaming, casts sex as a natural, albeit complicated part of our lives rather than inherently risky or negative, and has opened many doors for people that had been previously barricaded by shame, stigma, and repressive social norms.
Pleasure-positivity is sex-positive. However, it’s more heavily focused on what brings us pleasure as unique individuals. The reason I bring this up, BinB, is that while sex-positivity may help your partner feel empowered and excited about his kinks and fetishes, it may feel simultaneously disempowering to you as someone who finds pleasure in what feels, as you describe as, based in reality and/or vanilla.
Though your sexual pleasure may present as vanilla in comparison to his triple-chocolate chip with whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles, and handcuffs, your unique experience of sexual pleasure is just as valid as his. For some, intimate pleasure has nothing to do with sex at all!
Kate McCombs, MPH, my sex education colleague, states so gracefully; “There’s a huge variety of what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to sexual desire. Often people with lower desire for sex feel broken or weird. If that’s you, you’re not alone. In my opinion, prude-shaming is just as problematic as slut-shaming. As I like to say ‘I’m sex-positive – not sex-mandatory’”. Similarly, being kink- or fetish-positive doesn’t mandate it be a part of your sexual experience.
Of course, there are always two sides to every coin and endless sides to the complex shapes our sexual and romantic lives can take. If you would like to explore some other sides, there are a couple places to dig into.
You seem overwhelmed at the idea of exploring this wide realm of other-than-vanilla sex – understandable! A simple Googling of “kinky sex” can lead you into quite the overstimulating rabbithole, to say the least. Sexual exploration can be an extremely personal process and may look like fantasizing about something new for a few minutes while you masturbate, taking a vibrator for a spin, or diving headfirst into the porn pool. Some feel safe and comfortable exploring with their partners present and others need some solo space to process, feel awkward, or to just throw that new vibrator on the floor and swear them off for life.
For others, sexual exploration can mean a deeper process of unpacking what makes us feel hesitant about moving beyond the sex we know or the sex we’ve been granted social permission to have. I’m particularly interested in what you might discover by thinking about what makes reality-based sex feel good and safe to you.
Your partner has a responsibility to not pressure you into any kind of sex that you don’t feel consensually and enthusiastically YES about and also if you do decide to explore new sexual things with him, to be patient and supportive if certain things just don’t float your bangin’ boat.
Some suggested reading includes When Your Sex Drives Don’t Match by Sandra Pertot, Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.
No matter what, keep in mind this mantra by sex writer & educator Emily Nagoski, PhD: “Pleasure is the measure”; not your kink-o-meter, not the flavor of your freakiness, but your genuine pleasure.
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